Recently, I received a link to this awesome blog via Twitter. The linked article was titled “Importance of Being PREPARED Before Traveling”, and I couldn’t have agreed more with what the author stated! Following is the response I wrote to the article, which was about a solo female American traveler who was up sh*t creek without a paddle, due to her lack of foresight in obtaining important travel documents:
“Wow…I don’t know what to say to this one! I agree with your statement that “This girl definitely gives female American travelers a bad name”, even though I’m Canadian! I’m sure, though, that there are people from EVERY country that make dumb mistakes like this.
To ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again in any of her future travels, I’d advise her to look up the official government site for any country to which she wishes to travel. Look up the passport, visa, and embassy information, in case you need to go to that embassy to take care of passport/visa problems (lost, stolen, incorrect visa, etc.). When I travel, I take a folder with (or copies of) the embassy addresses, phone numbers and any other contact information available, in case I encounter any problems. It sounds like she went into Guatemala COMPLETELY unprepared, and you know what? Often times, you can’t do anything to change those people. There are many different types of travelers, and “woefully unprepared”, to put it mildly, will always be one of them!
As to what I’d tell her NOW, in a short-term situation…get your behind to the American embassy! There is NO way I’d want to be in ANY country illegally, especially in one that I know nothing about, and where I don’t speak the language (shaking head; I always make sure that before I leave on a trip, I at least know the language basics for the country to which I’m traveling!). This girl in the article needs some serious help!”
I’m definitely not perfect, but I’ll put this out there to anyone who is thinking of going to a foreign country (especially the USA!); please, PLEASE check your documents before you depart. I have a friend who works for an airline, and he’s told me several stories about people who are flying round-trip from Y to Z, are allowed to fly to Z, but are denied boarding in Z to fly back to Y. Make sure you check the following items (***WARNING: do not take my words at face value! Call your embassy if you have ANY questions, no matter how small they may seem***):
-make sure they’re the correct type. For example, if you’re going on a European vacation and will be entering the same country two times or more (e.g. France->Italy->Switzerland->France), then you’ll need a multiple-entry visa. A single-entry visa will NOT suffice.
-make sure yours is valid for 6+ months from the day of your arrival (most countries I’ve traveled to have this requirement. I’m not exactly sure why!).
-I read a story in Condé Nast Traveler’s Ombudsman column recently where a couple (living in the USA, but she was born in Mexico) was going on a cruise leaving Florida and going to the Bahamas. The woman was ordered off the ship; she had a slew of documents with her, but not the required one: The passport from her country of birth, Mexico. Lesson learned: if you were not born in the country in which you are a citizen/naturalized/work, then check passport requirements for your destination.
This is only a tiny fraction of what is important to know when traveling, but in my opinion, having the correct visa and passport makes your trip a heck of a lot easier!